Color, 1969, 92m.
Directed by Samuel Fuller
Starring Burt Reynolds, Arthur Kennedy, Silvia Pinal, Barry Sullivan, Enrique Lucero
Olive Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Perhaps the most perplexing film in an already bizarre career, Shark! marked the first film directed by Samuel Fuller after his two pivotal, highly uncompromising independent cult films of the early '60s, Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss. Neither were exactly commercial blockbusters at the time, and Fuller was relegated to scraping for TV jobs before he took on this film, a Mexican action film starring former Gunsmoke TV actor Burt Reynolds, who had recently appeared in Navajo Joe and 100 Rifles but was still three years away from superstardom. The entire production earned a jinxed reputation due to the intense meddling of the producers, who reportedly stripped away most of Fuller's more ambitious flourishes and hammered it into something more akin to a slightly more lavish episode of Hawaii Five-O. That said, even in compromised form the film still features a fascinating and utterly bizarre cast as well as enough moments of brutality and eccentricity to make it worth sifting through for dedicated film buffs.
Reynolds stars as Caine, a smuggler whose shipment of guns goes south in the Sudan. Stranded and on the wrong side of the law, he winds up taking a job with a couple of scientists, bleach blonde vamp Anna (Viridiana's Pinal) and older professor Dan (Planet of the Vampires' Sullivan), whose diving work requires a new assistant after their last one ended up in the belly of a shark. Caine takes the job and finds out they're not entirely above board; in fact, they're treasure hunters trying to get into a sunken vessel still surrounded by hungry man eaters. Some of the other locals, including a hard-boozing doctor (Kennedy) also become entangled in Caine's adventure as he tries to navigate a tricky minefield of passion, double crosses, and natural predators.
Some visually deft moments and a sweaty air of corruption are enough to make Shark! a diverting slice of afternoon viewing; in fact, it became a TV staple for years thanks to Reynolds' popularity, with several budget labels churning out the same murky master on a variety of VHS and DVD editions that made for deeply unpleasant viewing. If you're predisposed to the junkier end of Mexican cinema, especially the two generations of René Cardonas, this will be much more enjoyable as it meshes together a bumpy sub-noir narrative, some pretty impressive shark attack footage (which tragically also entailed the death of one stuntman), oddball comic relief involving a stogie-chomping tyke, and a really strange collection of acting styles. The entire experience was a very unpleasant one in the end for Fuller, who tried to have his name yanked off the film and didn't direct another full, official feature until his dream project, 1979's The Big Red One (which was also cut by the studio but in a fashion nowhere near the extremes seen here).
Anyone who tried to make it through any of those old transfers of Shark! will be completely floored by Olive Films' bare bones Blu-ray release (with a standard def option also available), licensed from Paramount and literally looking like a completely different film. The whole thing is so bright, clean, and clear it manages to jolt some entertainment value back into the film which, despite its mutilated final form, is of more than passing interest for film buffs and still more coherent than some of the straight-to-video action films turned out today. The original photography and edited resulted in some inconsistencies between scenes (with a little damage in some underwater shots, understandably), but this is a heck of a lot closer to pristine than anyone probably thought we'd ever see. The DTS-HD mono track sounds fine given the very modest nature of the source, which consists of dialogue, gurgling, and a wallpaper music score. A real curio to be sure, finally salvaged in an edition that won't give Fuller fans a headache just trying to watch it.
Reviewed on August 19, 2013.